Ayo: A Rain Tale
November 9, 2017
A copy of Ayo: A Rain Tale was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Ayo: A Rain Tale is a colourful platformer by Inkline that highlights the struggle of water-fetching for women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa. You play a girl named Ayo who embarks on a quest to collect water for her village. Through rewarding gameplay and gorgeous artwork, Ayo explores themes of endurance, hope, and nature as we navigate a very real trial for many women worldwide.
The game begins with Ayo saying goodbye to her family, equipped only with an empty water carrier and words of support before she heads out into the desert. The game is illustrated beautifully with a charming and vibrant style that immediately connects us to Ayo and her world. As we leave the village, the desert stretches on for miles, reminding us that we’ve got a long way to go despite the optimistic, adventurous tone. We are eased into the game, learning how to clamber and jump over boulders and vicious thorn bushes. The controls are basic platforming fare, helping us to feel empowered as we set off with Ayo, ready to overcome any obstacles we might face.
The environment is important in Ayo, with both the lush art and simple gameplay allowing the game to explore the theme of nature and how it relates to Ayo’s journey. Ayo must traverse rocky terrain, battling against sandstorms and aggressive winds. Animals play a big part in the game, acting as a reminder that all living things are connected to the earth, and that Ayo—and the player—are connected through them. We see a giant bull in the sky with each gust of wind, making the experience feel spiritual.
As we progress, the game becomes more challenging and the environments start to feel bleaker and more isolated. Ayo must avoid jets of lava and ominous toxic waste. You feel acutely aware of these natural elements and the fact that none of them are what we need: water. Water remains elusive and becomes a symbol of nourishment and hope. Instead, we feel the oppressive heat of the desert and the peril of underground caverns.
Despite the dangerous surroundings, it’s nature that Ayo must turn to in order to progress. Early on, we meet the Asili Twins, a mischievous fey duo who help you to unlock new abilities whilst also imparting words of wisdom and hope. Throughout the game, you meet the twins near towering animal statues imbued with power drawn from the surrounding environment. These totems pass their unique abilities onto Ayo, highlighting the strength in all sorts of different animals, big and small. Ayo learns to dig from the humble mouse, finding success in small spaces. She’s able to push boulders out of the way thanks to the persistent hippo, whilst the nimble deer introduces a double jump ability.
Each power reminds us to stay positive and remain hopeful as the game becomes more difficult. We also see the ways in which nature can be supportive, beautiful, and nurturing, in contrast to the obstacles and hazards we face throughout the journey. Ayo must find a way to both respect and utilise her surroundings, which are simultaneously dangerous and empowering.
This exploration brings the game’s world to life, helping the player to empathise further with the real-life women and girls making this journey. Whilst these women might seem far away, we are not completely detached from one another: as Ayo must navigate areas filled with toxic sludge instead of clean water, we’re reminded of the impact that environmental damage has on water-fetching. Here’s something we can do to help our sisters across the planet: we can take better care of our environment. By connecting with nature and adopting sustainable practices, we become interlinked with the well-being of people and animals around the world.
Nature in Ayo ties into its main theme of hope. Despite the struggles you face, the game remains cheerful. As Ayo traverses landscapes that are empty except for dangerous wildlife, she must stay positive or risk giving up before finding the water her village needs. The gameplay never feels impossible and the bubbly art style helps the player to see beauty and hope even when progress is difficult.
The Asili Twins offer brief respites from the loneliness of your journey. Each time you meet them, they are encouraging, recognising the struggle that Ayo faces but helping you to remain optimistic. Each animal you meet with them represents endurance in its own way. Life in the desert is hard, after all, and it’s by participating in this circle of support that allows creatures to flourish. The twins tell us that we are never alone, even during the darkest moments.
With Ayo’s unstoppable positivity and charm, it’s easy to get caught up in the platforming elements and the excitement of exploring the world and your abilities. It’s only at the end of the game that the player is forced to face the stark reality of the situation here. Following an epic encounter with a thunderous storm in the sky, Ayo’s courage and capability transform into exhaustion and fear. Once again, we find ourselves in the desert, the hot sun forcing us to take regular breaks in what little shade we can find. Ayo is no longer able to find solace in her painterly world of mythical beasts and imaginative puzzles. In fact, she is barely coping.
This is what water-fetching is really like for women and girls. It’s relentless, suffocating labour that impacts entire communities. We see Ayo’s family waiting for her to return. They are afraid and despairing, unable to hold on to their last scraps of hope. We know that even if Ayo makes it back home, she will have to embark on this journey again. Even after finding water, there is a long and weary trek home, one made all the more difficult with the weight of a full water-carrier. In fact, in the real world, girls are often unable to pursue education or find fulfillment in other areas of their lives due to the time and effort it takes to simply source drinking water.
Ayo is a short game packed with charm, beauty, and hope, but it’s also a powerful narrative that reminds us of the resilience and unnecessary struggle for communities in Sub-Saharan Africa—and in many places around the world where environmental damage destroys local sources of clean water. The essence of the platformer should be representative of Ayo’s young life; she should have the opportunity to play and grow without the burden of her village’s needs quite literally weighing her down. Ayo and her community deserve greater freedom.
But this game ends on a high note, with more optimism and hope for a brighter future. As players, we can come away from Ayo knowing that there are steps we can take to help women and girls around the world, and the game itself fosters empathy and awareness in order to spread this positive message. Ayo teaches us that the world around us is powerful, and that it can support us or it can break us—but human strength and belief matter, too, and anyone can make a difference.
Zainabb Hull is an editor at Sidequest, a freelance writer and videographer, and sort-of artist. They’re also a trans, queer, and disabled brown femme. They tweet into the void at @ZainabbHull.